Scottish culture is rich with mythology. There are tales of monks and saints, fairies and witches, kings, nobles, and ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Some stories were never written down, shared instead through retellings that turned storytelling into an art form.
In Thistle and Thyme, Sorche Nic Leodhas brings together ten folktales that were passed down through the generations as part of Scotland’s vibrant oral tradition. In this volume, stories about the changeling and the stolen child, the bride who was cursed to silence by a water kelpie, and the beekeeper who found a rabbit under a spell are just a handful of the thousands of local myths that make up Scotland’s colorful history.
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About the Author
Sorche Nic Leodhas (1898–1969) was born LeClaire Louise Gowans in Youngstown, Ohio. After the death of her first husband, she moved to New York and attended classes at Columbia University. Several years later, she met her second husband and became LeClaire Gowans Alger. She was a longtime librarian at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she also wrote children’s books. Shortly before she retired in 1966, she began publishing Scottish folktales and other stories under the pseudonym Sorche Nic Leodhas, Gaelic for Claire, daughter of Louis. In 1963, she received a Newbery Honor for Thistle and Thyme: Tales and Legends from Scotland. Alger continued to write and publish books until her death 1969.
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Thistle and Thyme
Tales and Legends from Scotland
By Sorche Nic Leodhas
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1962 Leclaire G. Alger
All rights reserved.
The Laird's Lass and the Gobha's Son
An old laird had a young daughter once and she was the pawkiest piece in all the world. Her father petted her and her mother cosseted her till the wonder of it was that she wasn't so spoiled that she couldn't be borne. What saved her from it was that she was so sunny and sweet by nature, and she had a naughty merry way about her that won all hearts. The only thing wrong with her was that when she set her heart on something she'd not give up till she got what it was she wanted.
Nobody minded so much while she was a wee thing, but when she was getting to be a young lady, that's when the trouble began.
She turned out better than anyone would have expected, considering all. You wouldn't have found a bonnier lass if you searched far and wide. But she was as stubborn as ever about having her own way.
Well, now that she was old enough the laird decided it was time to be finding a proper husband for her to wed, so he and her mother began to look about for a suitable lad.
It didn't take long for the lass to find out what they had in mind. She began to do a bit of looking around on her own. She hadn't the shade of a bit of luck at first. All the men who came to the castle were too fat or too thin or too short or too tall or else they were wed already. But she kept on looking just the same.
It was a good thing for her that she did, because one day as she stood at the window of her bedroom she saw the lad she could fancy in the courtyard below.
She called to her maid: "Come quick to the window! Who is the lad down below?"
The maid came and looked. "Och, 'tis only the son of the gobha that keeps the shop in the village. No doubt the laird sent for him about shoeing the new mare," she said. And she went back to her work.
"How does it come that I ne'er saw him before?" asked the lass.
"The gobha's shop is not a place a young lady would be going to at all. Come away from the window now! Your mother would be in a fine fret could she see you acting so bold."
And no doubt she was right, for the lass was hanging over the windowsill in a most unladylike way.
The lass came away as she was told, but she had made up her mind to go down to the village and get another look at the gobha's son.
She liked the jaunty swing to his kilt and she liked the way his yellow hair swept back from his brow and she had a good idea there'd be a lot of other things about him she'd be liking, could she be where she could get a better look at him.
She knew she wouldn't be let go if she asked, so she just went without asking. And to make sure nobody'd know her, she borrowed the dairymaid's Sunday frock and bonnet. She didn't ask for the loan of them either, but just took them away when nobody was around to see.
The gobha's shop was a dark old place but it wasn't so dark that she couldn't see the gobha's son shoeing the laird's new mare.
His coat was off and his arms were bare and he had a great smudge of soot on his cheek, but she liked what she saw of him even better than before.
He was holding the mare's leg between his knees and fixing the new shoe on its hoof, so she waited till he finished. Then she stepped inside.
"Good day," said she.
"Good day," said he, looking up in surprise. And he gave her a great wide smile that fair turned her heart upside down.
So she gave him one as good in return. "I'm from the castle," said she. "I just stopped in as I passed by to see how you were coming on with the mare."
"I've two shoes on and two to go," said he. "Bide here a bit and I'll ride you up on her back when I'm done."
"Och, nay!" said the laird's daughter. "I just stopped by. They'll be in a taking if I'm late coming home."
Though he begged her to stay, she would not. So off she went.
He was not well pleased to see her go for he'd taken a terrible fancy to her and wanted to know her better. It was only after she was gone that he remembered he'd never asked her name.
When he took the mare back, he tried to find out which of the maids from the castle had been in the village that day. But there were maids galore in the castle and half a dozen or more had been in the village on one errand or another, so he got no satisfaction. He had to go home and hope he'd be seeing her soon again. Whoever she was and wherever she was, she'd taken his heart along with her.
The laird's daughter had come home and put the dairymaid's frock and bonnet back where she got them. After she made herself tidy, she went to find her father. She found him with her mother in the second-best parlor and she stood before them and said, "You can just stop looking for a husband for me to wed because I've found the one I want myself."
The laird laughed, for he thought it a joke she was making, but he soon found out it was not.
"I'm going to marry the gobha's son!" said she.
The laird flew into a terrible rage. But no matter what he said, it was all of no use. The lass had made up her mind, and he couldn't change it for her. And it was no use bothering the gobha's son about it, because he didn't even know who she was. He'd just tell the laird he'd never laid eyes on his daughter.
Well, the laird could only sputter and swear, and his lady could only sit and cry, and the lass was sent to bed without her supper. But the cook smuggled it up to her on a tray so that did her no harm at all.
The next morning the laird told her that she and her mother were going to Edinbro' in a week's time. And there she'd stay until she was safely wed to her second cousin twice-removed that he'd finally picked to be her husband. The cousin had asked for her hand before, but the laird had been putting him off in case someone better came along. But the way things were, the laird had decided he'd better take the cousin after all, and get his daughter wedded to a husband her mother and he had picked for her themselves.
"I'll go if I must," said the lass. "But you can tell my cousin that I'll not be marrying him. I've made up my mind to wed the gobha's son!"
The gobha's son was having his own troubles.
When the laird and his family came out of the church on the Sabbath morn, they passed by the gobha and his son at the gate. When they'd gone by, the gobha's son pulled at his father's arm.
"Who is the lass with the laird and his lady?" he asked his father.
His father turned and looked. "Och, you ninny!" said he in disgust. "Can you not see 'tis no lass at all? 'Tis a young lady, so it is! That's the laird's own daughter."
The gobha's son had been building cloud-castles about the lass he'd thought was one of the castle maids, and now they all tumbled down. His heart was broken because he was so unlucky as to fall in love with the daughter of the laird.
Well, the days went by till it came to the one before the lass and her mother were to go to Edinbro'. The lass rose from her bed at break of dawn and dressed herself and tiptoed down the stairs. Since this was going to be her last day at home, she wanted to have a little time to be alone for it seemed that either the laird or her mother or else her maid was at her elbow ever since she'd told them she meant to wed the gobha's son.
The cook was in the kitchen as she passed through to the back door of the castle. The cook was picking something up from the floor.
"What have you there?" asked the lass.
"'Tis a bairn's wee shoe," said the cook. "One of the laird's dogs fetched it in and dropped it on the floor just now as he went through. It must belong to one of the gardener's weans. 'Tis a bonny wee shoe and much too good for the likes of them," she added with a sniff.
"Give it to me," said the lass. "I'll find the bairn that owns it." She took the shoe and dropped it in her pocket.
Around the stables she went and through the kitchen garden to the lane that led to the gardener's house. Halfway there she came upon a wee small old man sitting on the bank at the side of the lane with his head in his hands. He was crying as if his heart would break. He was the smallest manikin ever she'd seen. He was no bigger than a bairn and indeed he looked so like a bairn, sitting there and weeping so sorely, that she sat down beside him and put her arms about him to comfort him. "Do not greet so sore," said she. "Tell me your trouble and if I can I'll mend it."
"'Tis my shoe!" wept the wee man. "I took it off to take out a stone that got in it, and a great rough dog snatched it from my hand and ran off with it. I cannot walk o'er the briers and brambles and the cruel sharp stones without my shoe and I'll ne'er get home today."
"Well now!" said the lass, with a laugh. "It seems I can mend your troubles easier than my own. Is this what you're weeping for?" And she put her hand in her pocket and took out the shoe she had taken from the cook.
"Och, aye!" cried the wee man. "'Tis my bonny wee shoe!" He caught it from her hand and put it on and, springing into the road, he danced for joy. But in a minute he was back, sitting on the bank beside her.
"Turnabout is only fair," said he. "What are your troubles? Happen I can mend them as you did mine."
"Mine are past mending," said the lass. "For they're taking me to Edinbro' in the morn to wed my second cousin twice-removed. But I'll not do it. If I can't marry the gobha's son, I'll marry no man at all. I'll lay down and die before I wed another!"
"Och, aye!" said the wee man thoughtfully. "So you want to marry the gobha's son. Does the gobha's son want to wed you?"
"He would if he knew me better," the lass said.
"I could help you," the manikin told her, "but you might have to put up with a bit of inconvenience. You mightn't like it."
"Then I'll thole it," the lass said. "I'd not be minding anything if it came right for me in the end."
"Remember that" said the wee man laughing, "when the right time comes."
Then he gave her two small things that looked like rowan berries, and told her to swallow them before she slept that night.
"You can leave the rest to me," said he with a grin. "You'll not be going to Edinbro' in the morn!"
When the night came, what with packing and getting ready for the next day's journey, all in the castle went to bed early, being tired out. The laird locked the door of his daughter's room lest the lass take it into her head to run away during the night.
Early the next morn, the maid came up with the lass's breakfast tray. Since the door was locked, she had to put the tray down and go fetch the key from the laird's room.
"I'll come with you," the lass's mother said to the maid. So she got the key from under the laird's pillow and unlocked the lass's door. When she opened the door and went in, she screamed and fainted away. The maid behind her looked to see why, and the tray dropped out of her hands. The laird heard the racket and came running. He rushed into the room, and there was his wife on the floor, and the maid, with the tray and the dishes and all at her feet, wringing her hands. He looked at the bed. His daughter wasn't there!
"She's flummoxed us!" said the laird. "Where can she have gone to!"
He and the maid got the laird's wife into a chair and brought her to. The first thing she said was, "Have you looked at the bed?"
"I have!" said the laird grimly. "The pawky piece! She's got away. The bed's empty."
"My love," said his wife weakly. "'Tis not empty."
The laird went over to the bed and his lady came with him. The bed was not empty, though his daughter was not in it.
In her place, with its head on the pillow and its forelegs on the silken coverlet, lay a wee white dog!
"What is that dog doing in my daughter's bed?" shouted the laird. "Put the beastie out in the hall at once!" And he made to do it himself. But his wife caught his arm.
"I do not think it is a dog," she said. "I very much fear the wee dog is our daughter."
"Havers!" the laird said angrily. "Have you all gone daft?"
But they pointed out to him that the doggie was wearing the blue silk nightgown that her mother's own hands had put on her daughter last night. And hadn't the maid braided her young lady's hair and tied it with a blue satin ribbon? Well then, look at the wee dog's forelock all braided and tied the same. 'Twas plain to see that someone had put a spell on the lass and turned her into a dog.
"Nonsense!" said the laird in a rage. "Are you telling me I do not know my daughter from a dog?" And he strode over to the bed. But when he leaned over to pluck the animal from the covers, it looked up at him. The laird looked back in horror, for he saw that the eyes were his daughter's own, and the grin on its face was uncommonly like his lass's own wide naughty smile. And around its neck was the golden chain with the locket he'd given her long ago, that she'd worn since he put it there.
But the laird would not admit it. 'Twas all a trick! So he made them search the room from corner to corner and in every cupboard and press. He looked up the chimney himself and got himself covered with smuts, but all he saw was the blue sky above the chimney pot. She was not in the room. She couldn't have got out the windows. She couldn't have gone through the door, for he'd had the key to it. So it all came to this—the wee dog in the bed was his daughter.
He went over to have another look and as he bent down, the little dog chuckled with his daughter's own pleased chuckle and patted him on the cheek just as his daughter used to do. That settled it.
"Och, you wee rascal!" said the laird, never being able to find it in his heart to be angry with his daughter. "Now what are we to do?" There was one thing that was certain and sure. They'd not be going to Edinbro' that day. So a messenger was sent to the second cousin twice-removed, to tell him that he needn't be expecting them. The servants were told the lass was down in bed with some sort of an illness, and nobody but her maid was to be let come into the room lest they catch it. That was enough to keep them all away.
The laird had his own physician come from Edinbro' though his wife told him 'twould do no good at all. He made the man promise not to tell what he saw, then took him into his daughter's room. The doctor looked and shook his head. Then he looked at the dog again and rubbed his eyes. "'Tis strange!" he muttered. "I do not see a young lady. I see naught but a wee white dog."
"You see a dog because there is a dog!" shouted the laird.
"'Tis an optical delusion! Begging your lairdship's pardon, your lairdship's daughter is not a dog," insisted the doctor.
"'Tis my daughter." the laird roared. "And she is a dog. So be off with you!"
Well, the maid and his wife were right. The doctor was no use at all. He went back to Edinbro' and wrote a learned paper called "Remarkable Manifestation of Hallucination in A__shire," which was read by learned societies all over the world, but didn't help the laird at all.
Then the maid suggested they send for an old wife she'd heard of. The old woman came with herbs and powders, but all she could do was tell them the lass had been bewitched. How to take the spell off, she didn't know at all.
The laird tried a gypsy woman next, but all that got him was the loss of a silver comb she must have slipped into her pocket. It wasn't missed until after she'd gone away.
The laird was fair distracted, her ladyship took to her bed, and the maid went about in tears from morn till night. All the servants in the castle said it must be a mortal illness the young lady had on her and they tippy-toed and grieved as they went about their work.
The maids carried the news to the village, and the gobha's son soon heard all about it. If he thought his heart was broken before, it was twice as bad when he thought the laird's daughter might be about to die. For if she were living, at least he'd have a chance to lay his eyes on her now and again. He felt he couldn't be expected to bear it.
He was hammering away at a bit of metal his father had told him to make a brace of, not even noticing the iron had gone cold, when a shadow fell across the door. He looked up and there was the strangest sight he'd ever seen in his life. A wee bit of a man was there all dressed in green from his neck to his heels, and his shoes and his cap were red. He was mounted on a horse so small it could have stood under the belly of any horse the gobha's son had ever seen before, but it was the right size for the wee man in green.
The gobha's son stared, while the wee man got down from his horse and led it into the shop.
Excerpted from Thistle and Thyme by Sorche Nic Leodhas. Copyright © 1962 Leclaire G. Alger. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Contents1. The Laird's Lass and the Gobha's Son,
2. St. Cuddy and the Gray Geese,
3. The Stolen Bairn and the Sìdh,
4. The Lass Who Went Out at the Cry of Dawn,
5. The Changeling and the Fond Young Mother,
6. The Bride Who Out Talked the Water Kelpie,
7. The Drowned Bells of the Abbey,
8. The Beekeeper and the Bewitched Hare,
9. The Fisherlad and the Mermaid's Ring,
10. Michael Scott and the Demon,